My friends, I want to share with you a rather humbling experience that I had today..
Those of you who have taken the trouble to check my profile will know that I work in a Teaching Hospital in the North West of England, and that I am involved in medical education and training. One of my main areas of interest is the planning for, and the management of, major incidents and disasters.
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine, who works for Lancashire Ambulance Service, asked me if I would speak in a conference on Major Incident Planning and Management, which I gladly did. It was a well-attended affair, with delegates from all over the World. The positive feedback that my talk received made all my hard work completely worthwhile.
Last week, the same colleague rang me, saying that a delegation from Japan were at that conference, and they have contacted him to see if he could put them in touch with me. They wanted to ask some detailed questions that, clearly, I could not have answered at the time…
I was more than happy to oblige. I invited them to spend the whole afternoon in our Department, went through an extended version of my original presentation, and answered their questions. I took them round the Hospital, explaining the various components of our Hospital’s ‘Major Incident Plan’ (which, incidentally, I recently had the dubious pleasure of re writing). I was delighted to see that they enjoyed the afternoon, and that I managed satisfy their curiosity and their legendary Japanese attention to details.
The delegates were, in fact, three eminent Professors in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care. Each has a list of publications as long as my arm. Nevertheless, they felt that they still lacked some knowledge in the specific field of ‘Emergency Planning’, and were perfectly happy to seek that knowledge from a mere mortal like me. They came all the way from Japan, chasing one thing.. knowledge… They possessed the humility to enquire about what they did not know.. They never closed their minds to further knowledge. They never tried to hide behind their unquestionable status. On the contrary, they were actively seeking to widen their horizons and enhance their (already quite formidable) experiences..
Compare that to the attitudes of some fellow-countrymen!!.. A couple of years ago, I was approached by an old mate, who now is a prominent and well-connected surgeon in Damascus. He asked me if I would organize some courses, similar to what I regularly teach on in the UK, for doctors and other Health Care Professionals. I jumped at the opportunity.., I put at his disposal, and that of the authorities, my skills and experiences as a trainer, educator, and clinician. I offered to help train Emergency Care personnel in various aspects of emergency planning, trauma resuscitation, and other similar essential skills, free of charge, of course. I explained that with my connections in the UK, I could easily obtain permission to adapt existing courses, or develop new ones, to address the specific needs of my ‘target audience’.. My friend took up my proposals, and promised to put them to the ‘powers that be’.. He never came back to me!.. I later learned that this was done on his own initiative without ‘checking’ with the Big Wigs first.. and when he went to seek their approval and support, their reply was something on the lines of ‘Who the hell does he (yours truly, that is!..) think he is to come and teach US!!.. What does he know of the ‘systems’ (!!!) that we have here???... ‘
That, my friends, illustrates one of the fundamental problems with the Arab psyche. We are so insecure that we consider advice a threat. We are so unconfident that we view offers for help as attempts to patronise and undermine…
To my newly-found friends from Yokohama I say: ‘I am grateful to you beyond what my words can express.. You have taught me today a most valuable lesson. Humility is a sign of greatness. The ability to recognise one’s weaknesses, and to seek to address them, is the ultimate proof of strength.